‘Teachers must guard against loss of professional status’

Jacquie Reid.
Jacquie Reid.

Northern Ireland teachers must guard against the erosion of their professional status, according to a Coleraine teacher.

Jacquie Reid from the town, a former teacher at Millburn Primary and now President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union – Northern Ireland’s biggest locally-based teaching union - was speaking as colleagues in England publish details of a proposed new professional body, a College of Teaching.

Since 2010, when the coalition government scrapped the General Teaching Council for England, teachers there have had no professional body, unlike in Northern Ireland.

“The absence of a professional body for teaching in England has resulted in teachers’ professional practice being determined more by politics than by research and evidence,” she said.

“As a result the status of the profession is under threat, compounded by the growth in the academy system in England which threatens to fracture the state education system and open the door to privatisation - private providers already running large ‘chains’ of schools.

“This is not a system which has the best interests of our children at its core – pupils risk being replaced by profits and any system which is not teacher-led risks losing sight of the basic tenets of education.

“It is not just for teachers’ sakes that we must all, as a society, guard against this chipping away of professional status. In English academies, people with no formal training in teaching at all are allowed to take classes where their pupils’ futures are dependent upon their exam results.

“The stakes are too high – we cannot risk gambling with our young people’s potential. Our teachers must be properly trained and a career in teaching should have the same status as one in medicine, for instance.

“Sadly though, research has shown that levels of respect for the profession in the UK are much lower than other countries, including Egypt, Turkey and the US. Statistics from the University of Sussex last year revealed that the UK lies tenth in the league table which examined public attitudes to professional status, trust, pay and the desirability of teaching as a career.

“This is a worrying and a sad statistic as it reflects an attitude that will, to a degree, dictate the calibre of person coming into the profession – and ultimately, that impacts on the education of our children.

“Surely we all want the very best for the next generation of pupils. In today’s global economy we must give our students the very best chance to succeed through the best teaching practices delivered by a motivated and dedicated teaching staff who are well supported and resourced.”